The abysmal conditions endured by Palestinians in Lebanon is well-known and well-studied. So many Western master’s degree and PhD candidates have chosen Beirut’s Shatila refugee camp, site of the horrific 1982 massacre, as their “field,” that its residents might be one of the most studied groups of people on the planet.
The situation of Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank is also in the solidarity community’s consciousness, but less so Palestinians in the shatat or exile. Earlier this week, The Electronic Intifada published a profile of a family in Gaza whose experience of exile in Syria and Libya is shared by so many Palestinians.
And while Egypt has played an important role in the fate of the Palestinian national movement, little attention has been paid to Palestinians there. In a new policy brief from Al-Shabaka: the Palestinian Policy Network, Oroub el-Abed, a PhD student in Development Studies at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies and author of Unprotected: Palestinians in Egypt since 1948 (2009), gives an overview of the experience of Palestinians in Egypt and where they stand today. In “The Invisible Community: Egypt’s Palestinians,” she writes:
The few thousand who sought refuge in Egypt after the 1948 Nakba were not welcomed by King Farouq’s government. However, with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rise to power, Palestinians came to be treated on par with citizens of Egypt, enjoying basic rights, employment in the public sector, and property rights. After 1978 they were denied the rights once afforded to them by the Egyptian state as well as their rights as refugees. In this policy brief, Oroub El-Abed examines the legal status of Palestinians in Egypt, including positive signs of change in the wake of the Egyptian revolution. She argues that the Egyptian government must do more in order to live up to its responsibilities to this “invisible community,” whose numbers are unknown but who may be as many as 80,000.
An examination of the situation of Palestinians in Egypt, and their ability to organize and have their needs addressed, is as relevant as ever, as the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt is opened and closed and opened again, and a change in Egypt’s foreign policy with Gaza and Israel a key demand of the January 25 revolution.
Egypt, like some Arab host countries, promised to ensure basic rights for Palestinians in 1952 to preserve Palestinian identity and enable development. However, Palestinians living in Egypt became the victims of political differences between the PLO and the Egyptian government. Most importantly, the Egyptian government distorted its pledge to preserve Palestinian identity. Egypt must now honor its original pledge to ensure the basic rights of Palestinians are met, their residency rights are secured, and to help them fulfill their right of return.